Adult coloring books can help you meditate, rediscover your creativity, and simply enjoy the warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia.
Credit: Kate Mathis

Coloring is one of my happiest childhood memories. When I was small, a great Saturday afternoon was spent with a box of sharpened pencils, crayons worn down to the nub, and a fresh book. There, you would find me lying belly-flopped on the kitchen linoleum with materials sprawled out around me, scribbling furiously inside the outlined illustrations.

Yes, finger-painting was fun and building with glitter glue was rewarding (if not a tad messy), but there was something about coloring that could keep me entranced for hours. Maybe it was the satisfaction of pinpointing the perfect shade of blue I needed for the ocean I was coloring in. Or maybe it was the meditative simplicity of filling in the lines (or going beyond the lines if I felt particularly daring that day). Or maybe it was the way a colored page could mirror my inner self: my mood splayed in relaxed, thoughtful strokes or happy-go-lucky zigzagging streaks over the paper.

Do you suddenly miss it? When was the last time you picked up a crayon to fill in a coloring book? It was most likely during your own childhood, right?

The Coloring Craze

But coloring isn't just for kids anymore. In fact, more adults are picking up what was once regarded as a childhood pastime. The trend took off in France a few years ago where coloring books that included intricate illustrations of animals, flowers, and fantastical landscapes became best sellers. A popular title is Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book ($9.99, by Johanna Basford, which has since sold over one million copies worldwide. The coloring craze is huge throughout Europe and gaining popularity in the United States. Books now range from the fantastical, such as Art-Therapie, to the downright silly like Mel Simone Elliot's celebrity-themed series that lets you shade in the likes of Channing Tatum ($12.29, and everything in between, including Outside the Lines ($10.99,, a coloring book that translates the collective work of artists like Ryan McGinness, Shepard Fairey, and the late Keith Haring into monochromatic illustrations.

Millie Marotta, a published illustrator and author of books like Animal Kingdom ($8.99,, encourages coloring for adults. She believes that coloring works as a kind of art therapy. "I think in today's world, we move at such a fast pace, and coloring books can provide us with a simple and relaxing activity, which allows us to 'switch off,'" she says. "Coloring is very absorbing—it encourages you to focus on the present moment and to forget all the things in life which may be causing worry, stress, or anxiety."

As children, the technique of coloring develops our dexterous skills and teaches us ideas like color theory. And as we grow older, the wellness impact of coloring becomes even more prevalent. Hands-on art like coloring sharpens our motor skills, relieves our minds of stress and boosts our creative power. In Marotta's words, "[It] is a wonderfully simple creative outlet."

"I think coloring is something which anyone can enjoy regardless of age, and so I wanted to try and create illustrations for the book which people of all ages could relate to," Marotta says of her work. In her books, you'll find whimsical images of idiosyncratic animals, flowers in bloom, and sophisticated patterns at play. Who doesn't love the idea of immersing oneself into a fantastical world of monochromatic illustrations and bringing them to (colorful) life?

Refresher Course

Feeling a little rusty on the coloring front? It's okay. As we all realized at some point in kindergarten, coloring is not really as easy as it looks. There is skill involved.

Marotta suggests soft colored pencils for easy shading and blending. "Don't press too hard with your colored pencils," she offers, "Instead, make colors richer by gradually building up layers rather than scribbling very hard on the page as this can often result in the paper tearing or grooves being worn into the pages underneath." Of course, in the end, the secret of coloring is in the creative freedom. "There is no right or wrong way, that's the beauty of coloring," she says, "just do your own thing and enjoy it."


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